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Home » Resources » Health » For Some Traveling Musicians Motion Sickness Goes with the Territory

For Some Traveling Musicians Motion Sickness Goes with the Territory


If you are on the road this festival season, hopping on and off planes, or more likely, the tour bus, there’s a good chance you might have a bout of motion sickness. The queasy stomach and nausea are a result of the disparity between the visual and vestibular systems (the latter of which constitutes the inner ear and is responsible for balance and equilibrium).

Normally, these systems work in concert to integrate information. Motion sickness occurs when the inner ear detects movement, but the eyes do not register movement. Scientists call this “sensory conflict.” In a plane, the eyes tend to adjust to the movement as if you are barely moving. Your inner ear, which is lined up with the terrestrial environment, reacts to the actual movement in relation to gravity. The eyes and inner ear are sending conflicting information to the brain. These mixed signals and subsequent imbalance cause nausea and vertigo, often accompanied by vomiting. Some doctors recommend reducing and/or shutting down signals by removing offending smells, tastes, noise, and vision. So, high-quality earplugs and an eye mask may help.

Sea Sickness and Visual Input: On a Boat, in a Plane

When someone reads in the car, they reduce the visual input of motion because they are not looking ahead or out the window. The vestibular system notes movement, but it’s not aligned with the visual signal. We see that we’re moving by looking out the window and we sense the motion via our vestibular system. In a vehicle, sit in the front seat and lean your head against the headrest to minimize head movements. Research suggests that focusing on a distant point on the horizon helps realign the senses and the brain. For some people, driving the vehicle, rather than being a passenger, is an instant remedy.

If you’re a landlubber, but suddenly find yourself a gig on a cruise ship, choose a lower-level cabin in the middle of the ship, which generally experiences less motion. Standing topside, focusing on the horizon helps one regain balance. Hence, getting your sea legs. Leaning back and keeping head movements to a minimum may reduce the number and complexity of signals to the brain. Numerous products are available, including anti-seasickness wristbands (acupressure and magnetic), which work by applying pressure to points located on the underside of the arm.

In a plane, request a window seat and look out the window. A seat over the front edge of the wing, where the degree of motion is lowest, is preferable. Direct the air vent to blow cool air on your face. Use the seat headrest to stabilize your head. On a train, always face forward and sit near a window. Recline your seat slightly, resting your head.

According to Chinese medicine, acupressure can balance the chi or flow of energy in the body. Some people who use acupressure on their wrists report reduced motion sickness. A 2017 study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) showed that electroacupuncture could also reduce susceptibility to motion sickness.

Talk to your doctor if you think you need medication for motion sickness. Commonly used over-the-counter medications are diphenhydramine (Benadryl), dimenhydrinate (Dramamine), and scopolamine. As some of these medicines cause drowsiness, follow the labeled warnings if you plan to operate a vehicle.

General tips to prevent and ease symptoms:

  • Get a good night’s sleep before traveling.
  • Eat a light, high protein meal beforehand. (Avoid heavy, greasy, and acidic foods. Coffee, citrus juice, heavy meats, and carbs are slow to digest.)
  • Drink plenty of water. Do not drink large amounts of alcohol before you travel. Alcohol dehydrates and generally lowers resistance to motion sickness.
  • If possible, stand if you feel queasy and look out over the horizon.
  • Do not read or use mobile devices while traveling, if you are prone to motion sickness.
  • Open a vent or source of fresh air, if possible.